Faculty Member Facing HRTO Complaint over Accommodations

| 19/06/2017

Faculty Member Facing HRTO Complaint over Accommodations

There are none who are more committed to students’ access to quality education than our members. Yet, as a cautionary tale we sadly recount the circumstances that find one of our number answering to a discrimination charge before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HTRO).  If nothing else, we must realize that poorly implemented college systems expose all of us to this same risk.

The story begins with our member’s commitment to accommodating their students in a course that requires evaluation of hands-on technical skills—evaluations that in turn require equipment and systems found only in specialized lab environments, not Test Centres.  Historically, students with accommodation needs have had them successfully met in that lab environment for many years.  Even this time around, the accommodation needs of students were satisfactorily met in the lab, but one student took exception and refused to be examined in the lab.

On the student’s Accommodation Letter, it read (as it does on many such letters), “Accommodation: Test Center”.  It did not say, “Test Center, or other suitable place where accommodation needs can be met satisfactorily”.  This is at the crux of the problem.  Since the purpose of accommodations is to permit all students an equal opportunity to perform the required tasks, it follows that any room required by an accommodation must be suitable to permit the accommodated student to complete the evaluation.  In this case, the official Test Center was wholly unsuited to the examination, as it lacked the specialized nature of the equipment and systems required.  Our member’s department Chair even confirmed that performing the examination in the Test Center was not possible. 

The student, however, refused to be evaluated in the lab environment and proceeded to file a discrimination charge against our member with both the college and the Human Rights Commission of Ontario.  The charge: That not permitting the student to use the Test Center was a deliberate act of discrimination.  This, despite the fact that it was actually impossible to do the evaluation in the Test Center, and that all of the student’s noted accommodations (extra time, use of computers, etc.) would have been met in the lab environment. 

Months later, the case still stands before the HRTO.  Frankly, our colleague should not even have standing in the matter.  The issue is between the college and the student; faculty cannot change the venue limitations set up by the college.  Should Accommodation Letters be worded by the College in a way that permits faculty to apply judgement in order to ensure that students are appropriately accommodated?  We argue they should be.  Could this grievance have been avoided if the lab environment had been delegated by the college as an appropriate alternate Test Center?  Clearly, yes.  Should the college be accountable for providing suitable environments in which to administer all accommodations?  We think so, but it remains our Union colleague who stands accused, alongside but independent of the college. 

How to Protect Yourself

When you have an issue of any kind with accommodation (or require clarification), ensure that you have a discussion with the student’s Counsellor, even if it is unlikely that the counsellor will be able to solve the problem.  Equally, bring the matter to the attention of your Chair.  As well, please involve your union steward and the union Local as early as possible when a difficulty arises (and hopefully long before the lawyers get involved).  Lastly, and more generally, consider how important academic freedom (the independence of curriculum and grading from the administration of the colleges) and academic integrity are for our collective efforts to defend the quality of education that we offer.

Category: Counselors, Equity, Faculty, Grievances

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